Three years ago, John Degen of Takoma Park entered Washington Adventist Hospital to undergo heart surgery.

"I knew I was going to have a rough time of it, and I was scared," the 63-year-old man recalled.

While his wife, Elizabeth, provided emotional support, there was no one who had been through the surgery who could share his fears.

Degen said he vowed that if he survived he would aid others. The soft spoken, balding man has done just that.

He volunteers five days a week at the hospital counselling heart patients.

"I don't talk medical talk," he explained. "I just talk like an ordinary Joe. I tell them where it's going to hurt and what they have to do to get better."

Often it is Degen's hand a patient is holding when he or she is wheeled to the operating room and his face that they see first when they regain consciousness.

His efforts on behalf of heart patients has earned him national recognition.

He and nine fellow volunteers working with the Montgomery County Volunteer Services were honored this week at a reception at Montgomery College. All have gained national or regional recognition for their work in the county.

Volunteer Services, directed by the county's Office of Human Resources, has a work force of 25,000 Montgomery County residents. The four-year-old program recruits volunteers for 165 county-wide service and advocacy groups.

"Our volunteers are from 3 to 93 years old. They come from all different walks of life," said program coordinator Marit Thorson.

The very young serve as foster grandchildren to residents of the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington. Many of the elderly work with their peers at one of the county's senior citizen complexes. Thorson said many county residents join the program to enhance job skills or to try a different career.

Susan Eilers, 17, of Bethesda, helps probation officers in the county's juvenile services office. She plans to study criminology this fall at the University of Maryland.

Peggy Anne Hanson of Bethesda was honored for her work in aiding battered wives in the county. A founding member of the County Commission for Women, Hanson saw the need to organize services for battered wives.

She and 20 volunteers now escort victims to the hospital, to court, arrange for day care and emergency shelter.

Hanson said the most successful volunteers are those who are into the "do-gooder idea."

More than ever before, Hanson said, volunteers are needed to help the local government "fill the gaps of service it just can't afford to fill."

Rockville attorney Louis D. Harrington was honored for his work in placing inmates from the Montgomery County Detention Center in a program sponsored by the General Motors Training Center in Fairfax.

With funds from the American Bar Association, Harrington gives each person $25 a week during the eight weeks of training and $400 in tools when they are released from jail and are working as auto mechanics. Persons who complete the course are given jobs in general Motors dealerships.

Since the program began two years ago, Harrington has placed 15 men. Out of the number five have returned to jail.

One of his reasons for donating an estimated 400 volunteer hours to the program is "self-perservation," he said.

"The more men I help stay out of trouble, the less costly it is to society," Harrington said. "If I get a couple of people out of criminal ways and into tax-paying citizens it helps me too."

Preventing crime among youth was the incentive for Pat Malvik of Chevy Chase to help organize pals project, in conjunction with the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County.

She now serves as coordinator of the project, in which 16-to-18-year olds are paired with youngsters from 5 to 15 who could benefit from a big brother or big sister type of relationship.

Some 90 youths are particpating in the year-old program.

Seven years ago, Henriette Zegers of Bethesda decided to put her trade as a tapestry designer to use developing toys for the blind.

What developed was a successful organization called Touch Toys. With co-founder Eleanor Timberg, of the District, Zegers has enlisted 55 volunteer toymakers to produce objects that can be enjoyed by both the visually handicapped and mentally retarded.

Dr. Herman Meyesburg and Dr. Arnold Cohen were recognized for bringing medical services to county residents unable to travel to county spondents clinics under a program called Mobile Medical Care.

Also honored was Michael Abell for his work in futhering the legal rights of the mentally ill.

Montogmery County Executive, James P. Gleason told the 150 vlunteers who gathered in the college's cafeteria that they had "transformed Montgomery County into a county of beautiful people."

Montgomery County Volunteer Services will hold a recruiting fair in early fall. For information on how volunteer to get a volunteer for an organization call Linda Laskin at 340-1902.